Unlike the dinosaurs – matrons haven’t died out. It’s a fact that Linda Nurden says patients and relatives always find reassuring.
“They believe we’ve gone,” she said. “They always ask if I’m a typical matron. I have old fashioned values; I always wear my uniform, which is unusual for a matron these days, but I’m not quite the dragon – at least I hope not.”
The former midwife sees herself as a guardian of quality; walking the wards of the hospitals daily.
“I like spending time with patients, whether it’s giving them a cup of tea, helping them to eat their lunch or talking about their life. That’s my personal satisfaction. I walk the wards to see if everything is up to standard. Is it friendly and inviting? Do the patients appear to be well looked after? Are their call bells in reach? Are they sitting, dressed appropriately? At least once a week, I go through notes and check everything has been done.
“I watch the quality of care we deliver to patients; from talking to the kitchen staff if the food’s not good enough, to the cleaners if they are being too noisy around a patient’s bed, to the nurses about their care and the volunteers too.”
The 59-year-old’s family never wanted her to be a nurse, considering it a ‘subservient role’.
“My aunt was a nurse in the Second World War and my father said ‘no daughter of mine is ever doing that sort of job’. So, I went into banking at first and I hated it; I stuck it for two years and then went to see the matron at Sheppey District Hospital.
“It was 1974 and she was a proper matron; scary, with the lovely waterfall hats.
"She offered me a job then and there, as they did in those days and I started the next day as an auxiliary nurse.”
Six months later, she enrolled for three years’ training at Charing Cross Hospital.
“They were the happiest days of my life. There was hierarchy and respect and I liked that. Every speciality I tried as a student I wanted to do! “One of my first patients, on the gynaecological ward, still sends me a card now. She believed nurses were angels.”
After marrying childhood sweetheart John, Linda moved back to Sheppey and trained as a midwife at All Saints’ Hospital in Chatham.
She said: “I went back to Sheppey Hospital to become a midwifery sister. People think it’s the happiest job in the world, but it can be heart-wrenching too as not all babies go home.”
Between 1978 and 2005, Linda delivered hundreds of babies; her last at home in Queenborough.
At 50, she decided it was time for a change and moved into treating minor injuries and illnesses.
“Then I was approached to see if I would like to apply for the role of matron. My one ambition was never to be a manager because of the politics, but my husband said ‘if you want to make a difference you have to do this. If you know what’s wrong, you have to alter it’.”
Linda took up the post of matron at Sittingbourne in December 2009 and, in October last year, became matron for Sheppey hospital too.
The hospitals mainly care for patients over 65, who receive rehab after a stroke, a fall, surgery or illness.
She has questioned made improvements at both hospitals – for example the name of each patient’s nurse and therapist is above their bed so they know who is involved in their care.
A big factor in her decision to take the role was the care her mother received in her final days.
“She was extremely ill,” said Linda. “She begged me not to let her go into hospital, but she needed surgical care and I couldn’t care for her at home. I was ashamed by the care she received; it wasn’t to the standard I expected.
“I hadn’t cared for older people in 30 years, but it was about the time the news started to look at standards of care for older people.
“I felt I wanted to make a difference if I could.
“My family live on Sheppey and I want to be able to say with confidence I’m happy to have them on the ward. I am. And I need to keep it like this, as some day my husband and I may be patients here.
“It’s got to be right. The people of Swale deserve the best.”
A couple of months ago, Kent Community Health Trust had to shut one of Sheppey’s two wards due to staffing shortages.
Linda said: “We’ve done everything we can to recruit more nursing staff, but we took the decision to temporarily close a ward because a ward with a high level of agency staff is unsafe.
“It’s like someone else cleaning your kitchen; they can do it, but not necessarily to your standard.
“Agency staff can play a vital role, but naturally don’t know how our wards are run and can do things more slowly, which impacts on other nursing staff. I always look at the ward as if my mother was on that ward, would I be happy?
“If I would not want my mother on that ward, why would I want anyone else’s? That’s always my yardstick. And that’s why it had to temporarily close.”
But Linda is keen to encourage nursing staff to join her team.
“The student nurses who come here really learn how to nurse – to look after the whole person and deliver holistic care. We have great community hospitals, with lots of community spirit, so anyone who is interested in joining us can call me and I’ll be proud to show what we have to offer.”
For job opportunities, visit www.kentcht.nhs.uk/jobs